Roasting and braising have become really popular these days, but one of my favorite and easiest cooking methods is the stir fry. I like it because I always have cooked rice in the freezer, so that part is easy. Now the veggies and protein are speedy. I can do the preparation early in the day and have the meal when I want it, or I can turn leftover proteins and veggies into tasty and satisfying dishes quickly, without a lot of pots and pans to clean up, or fancy stuff to fuss with. So let me tell you how I do it.
Easy successful stir fries depend on two things: understanding the underlying principles of this cooking method and getting organized before you begin. I use it for meats, poultry, seafood, tofu, tempeh, and vegetables. It is similar to sautéing but is quicker and more flexible and interesting. All the ingredients are sliced, diced or minced and then tossed vigorously at very high temperatures in a small amount of hot oil. This seals in juices and preserves color, texture and flavor. Next a small amount of liquid is added and the ingredients that need it are cooked in it as quickly as possible.
When properly cooked, the food looks fresh and sparkly, but most importantly, retains its nutritional value. Each food has its own cooking time – tender foods need less heat; dense, tougher foods need more. Each food is added to the pan separately and in the right sequence so that all ingredients reach the desired degree of doneness at the same time.
Stir-frying is not difficult, it is different from roasting and crock pots – you have to acquire a feel for each food’s timing, a sense of sequence and sensitivity to the amount of heat that will produce the best results. This means paying a different kind of attention to the food. The hand must be on the stirring, the eye on the food, the mind on the next step. And no bites, tastes, or nibbles!
You need only one pan – you can use either a large, heavy skillet or a heavy steel or aluminum wok at least 14 inches in diameter. Choose your tools; wooden spoons work fine or use heat proof plastic, so that you don’t scratch the non stick surface.
It’s easier to stir fry on a gas range, because you can change the heat quickly. If you are using an electric range, I find it best to set the heat at a moderate level, and move the wok off the burner if you need to. If you find you love this way of cooking, you may want an electric wok or a real non stick one.
Since there are so many variables, depending on your range, utensils and even on the food itself, the timing specified in stir-frying recipes can be only a guide. Keep your eye on the food, not on the clock.
All cutting and chopping of foods must be done in advance and all ingredients assembled and ready before you heat the pan. This is a perfect opportunity to involve (and maybe even teach) little family members how to wash, peel, chop, dice, and slice. (It’s one of my big bugaboos – so forgive the interruption here – you need a really good, sharp knife and you need to learn to use it well – that can be why cooking takes you so long. This is FUN with a good knife!)
Ready to cook? Always start with a dry pan. Spray the pan lightly with nonstick spray. Heat it over high heat until the metal becomes hot enough to make a drop of water sizzle. Then add the oil (see below at * for amounts). Pour the oil around the edges of the pan and let it sink down. Swirl the pan if you need to. Heat until it is bubbling but not smoking. It should be thin and flow easily. If oil and pan are not sufficiently hot, the ingredients will stick and become limp.
Now add the meat, seafood or chicken. These ingredients are stir-fried by themselves (usually first) in very hot oil. Toss them about the pan; keep it moving. If you want to add dry spices, put them in now. Be sure to heat evenly and prevent burning, until they are partly cooked. Beef is partly cooked when it loses its redness and turns brown; pork and chicken when they lose their pink-ness and turn white; shrimp when it starts to turn pink. No other liquid is added at this point. If the pan becomes too dry, more oil may be added.
Never pour the oil directly on the meat. Add it with a wide, circular motion inside the rim of the pan so that it runs down the sides and is heated by the metal before actually touching the meat.
Do not add more than one pound of meat, chicken or seafood to the pan at one time. A greater amount lowers the temperature of the pan too quickly. The ingredients should be fairly dry before adding to pan. If meat is moist, a layer of steam forms between meat and oil, interfering with the searing process that seals the meat and keeps it juicy.
Liquid seasonings, such as soy sauce, tamari, and broth, are added in small quantities but not until the meat is partly cooked. If the meat is too raw, the liquid will toughen it. When added at the right time, liquid seasonings enable the meat to keep cooking at a high temperature without burning. They also blend with the juices of the meat and bring out its natural flavors. Liquid seasonings should be hot before contact with the meat, so add them to the pan as you do the oil—in a circular motion around the inside of the rim.
Vegetables usually are added after the meat is partly cooked. As a rule, vegetables require less heat and more cooking time than meat. Add vegetables to the pan a fistful at a time so that each piece can make contact with the oil at the same even heat and cook at the same high temperature.
If the pan is too small, or if you prefer, you can remove the meat from the pan, and cook the vegetables separately, returning the meat to the pan later.
A little broth or tomato juice or water is sometimes added to the vegetables to soften them and blend their flavors. Add these liquids by spooning them around the edge of the pan so that they can be heated before touching vegetables. They should moisten, not drown, the food; stir-fried dishes are better dry than wet.
Now you cook the mixture, adding the vegetables as directed. The proteins will be done just as soon as the vegetables are done. Serve immediately.
Weighing and Measuring
If you weigh and measure your food, this is easier than it looks. Weigh the meat before you put it in the pan. Cooked meat loses 20% to 25 % of its weight, when cooked this way. So, if you need four ounces of meat for your food plan, you must start with five ounces. Now how many servings do you want to make? (Pretend here that you want four.) Multiply that number by five, and begin with that many ounces of protein. (5×4=20)
How many cups or ounces of vegetables do you need? Multiply by the same number (4) of servings. Now weigh or measure the whole cooked amount. Eat your serving. (1/4). Write down the number of cups or ounces on the recipe. That is your portion for each time you make this.
This sounds complicated. It’s easy to do and, once you work with it, you will find it a blessing to make your quantities right this way.
Good with creamy mashed potatoes and pickled beets.
¾ pound boned, skinned chicken breast or thighs, cut in ½ inch chunks
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 10-ounce package frozen zucchini or yellow squash
1 10-ounce package frozen peas and carrots
1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil
2 ½ tablespoons butter or margarine
¾ teaspoon garlic powder
½ cup chopped, peeled onion
1 tablespoon dried dillweed
3 tablespoons water
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
Place chicken in a medium-sized bowl, sprinkle with lemon juice and toss to coat. Put frozen vegetables in a colander or large strainer; rinse to remove exterior ice and drain. Assemble remaining ingredients.
To cook: In a large, heavy skillet or wok heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and ½ tablespoon of the butter over high heat. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of the garlic, add chicken and onion and stir-fry 3 minutes, until chicken turns white and onion is soft. (Thigh meat will take 4 to 5 minutes.) Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Add remaining ½ tablespoon of oil and 1 tablespoon of butter to the skillet; when hot, add frozen vegetables, stirring to break them up as quickly as possible. Stir-fry for about 2 minutes, until heated. Stir in the dill and sprinkle with the remaining ¼ teaspoon garlic powder and the water. Cover and cook 2 minutes longer, until vegetables are tender but not overcooked. Add chicken and remaining tablespoon butter. Stir a few seconds to heat and stir in parsley. Makes 4 servings.
One fourth counts as 3 gm protein, 1 tbsp fat
Alternates. Small fresh squash and diagonally sliced carrots may be used. Cooking times will be similar to those above if squash is sliced ¼ inch thick, carrots 1/8 inch. Or you may use two 10-ounce packages frozen Danish-style vegetables; omit onion, butter and dillweed and serve with mashed potatoes seasoned with dillweed
JADE AND CORAL
A festive dish for a celebration, Serve shrimp with fluffy white rice and a salad of coarsely shredded white turnips and carrots, lightly seasoned with soy sauce and vinegar and mounded on crisp lettuce.
¾ pound frozen peeled and deveined shrimp
2 tablespoon sugar free soy sauce
2 Tablespoons sugar free broth
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup ¼ inch diagonal slices celery
1 6-ounce package frozen Chinese pea pods or snow peas, thawed
½ cup toasted slivered almonds
Place shrimp in a large strainer or colander, rinse off ice and drain. In a medium-sized mixing bowl mix the broth with 1 teaspoon of the soy sauce, ½ teaspoon ground ginger. Add shrimp and toss to coat with the mixture. Let stand about fifteen minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times. In a small bowl mix remaining tablespoon of broth and soy sauce Assemble remaining ingredients.
To cook: In a large, heavy skillet or wok heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over high heat. Add shrimp and stir-fry 2 to 3 minutes, just until curled and pale pink. Do not overcook. Remove to marinating bowl. Add celery and stir-fry 1 minute. Stir in pea pods and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes to heat. Return shrimp and juices to the skillet along with the almonds and reduce heat to moderately high. and stir into skillet. stir a few seconds to coat shrimp, vegetables and nuts with sauce. Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 4 oz protein, 15 gm fat
Alternates. Fresh shrimp may be used. Do not marinate but add, soy sauce and broth from marinade to the. Omit ginger.
BEEF WITH BROCCOLI AND MUSHROOMS
This classic, one-dish meal, good for guests or family, uses all the basic stir-frying techniques.
½ cup sugar free soy sauce
1 tablespoons cider vinegar
½ cup beef broth
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
¾ pound beef flank steak or top round steak, cut in 1/8 inch diagonal slices
1 large sweet onion, peeled, halved and cut in ¼ inch slices (1 ½ cups)
1 ½ cups peeled broccoli stems, cut in 1/8 inch diagonal slices
2 ½ cups broccoli florets
¼ pound fresh mushrooms, cut in 1/8 inch slices
Mix soy sauce, vinegar and broth in a small bowl or measuring cup Assemble remaining ingredients.
To cook: In a large, heavy skillet or wok heat 1 ½ tablespoons of the oil over high heat. Add garlic and cook a few seconds to season oil. Add meat and stir-fry 2 minutes, until slices are lightly browned but still slightly pink in the center. Remove meat and any pan juices to a bowl; . Add 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil and when hot, add onion and broccoli stems; stir-fry 2 minutes, until crisp-tender. Add remaining ½ tablespoon oil around edge of skillet and add broccoli florets and mushrooms. Stir-fry 2 minutes; pour in meat and juices from the bowl and then the soy-vinegar mixture. Stir, cover and cook 2 minutes. Stir broth mixture and pour into the skillet. Cook, stirring constantly, 2 to 3 minutes, until thickened. Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 4 oz protein, 16 gm fat
Alternates. Two 10-ounce packages frozen broccoli florets and one 4 ¾ ounce can mushrooms may be substituted for fresh vegetables. Cook onion and remove. Cook broccoli 3 to 4 minutes, until thawed and separated. Then add mushrooms with meat and soy-vinegar mixture.